“I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)
It is a terrible reality but the truth is that a large part of the Church has not dared to embrace or believe the promise of Exodus 15:26. The Church does not really expect that the Lord to fulfill His Word in the area of Divine healing. That is a tragic shame. Nevertheless, for those who have ears to hear what the Spirit saith, there is Biblical instruction for those who are afflicted, and for those who are sick.
The passage that sets forth the known will of the Lord is James 5:13-15. “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
Question. “According to James 5:13, what is the person who is afflicted to do?”
Answer: “The person who is afflicted is to pray.”
The person who is afflicted is to pray for himself. The afflicted individual is to call personally upon the Lord with the assurance that God is listening.
First, the Lord is listening for confession of sin.
Second, the Lord is listening to discern a person’s motive as to why they want to be relieved of their suffering. Is it simply to make the pain stop, or is it to bring glory to Him?
Third, the Lord is listening for a specific petition, as Paul prayed to have his thorn in the flesh removed. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” (2 Cor. 12:7-8)
The Lord is sensitive to those who are suffering. In matchless grace He has provided the privilege of prayer to talk to Him about one’s affliction. In the holy dialogue it is possible that the Lord reveals that the affliction will continue for valid reasons. In the case of Paul, the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
When Paul discerned the will of the Lord, he submitted to the Sovereign and said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
But Paul did not stop there. He went on to state, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
Paul embraced his affliction. But what about a person who is sick? Notice that in James 5:14, a distinction is made between a person who is afflicted, and a person who is sick.
The Greek word for affliction is kakopatheo; kakos, “evil,” pathos, “suffering”, and refers to any form of suffering hardship.
But the Greek word for sickness is astheneo, “to be weak, feeble”, and refers to someone who is diseased.
Question. “What are the sick to do?”
Answer. “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14)
A person who is sick is to take four actions.
First, a person who is sick is to call specifically for the Elders of the Church. Note that the word“ Elders” is in the plural. This is no accident. The early congregations had a plurality of pastoral leadership, for a lot of good reasons. Much of the modern day Church has moved far away from the Biblical model of Eldership rule and substituted it with congregational rule, or worse, an authoritarian rule by a strong personality in the assembly.
There are historical, cultural, and emotional reasons for the transition from a Biblical model of church structure to a worldly mode. None of the reasons for moving away from a Scriptural model of church government are any good. Beyond that, they create an obstacle to understanding what the Lord wants His people to do when someone is sick. The Lord would have His people call for the spiritual pastoral leaders of the Church, and the emphasis is on the plural. Call the doctor, to be sure. Listen to good medical counsel. Call 911 in an emergency. But do not forget to call for spiritual leaders. As Under-shepherds, Elders are designed to reflect the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for His sheep.
Second, a person who is sick is to allow the Elders to pray. They are not the only ones to pray, but in the Day of Judgment the Lord will ask the Under-shepherds if they watched over the sheep entrusted to their care.
Third, a person who is sick is to be anointed with oil by the Elders. Oil is a symbol of healing in Scripture. Jesus told the story of “a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:33-34) Oil is used in Scripture as a symbol of light, and of the Holy Spirit, but we must not forget it is a symbol of healing.
The Elders who are obedient to the gospel, and who pray for the sick and anoint them with oil, are visibly reminding God of His appointed means of healing. They are also being obedient. A person might say, “I won’t call the Elders. I don’t want to be fussed over.” Well, it is better to be fussed over than being fussed at by the Lord for not using His appointed means of grace.
Fourth, a person who is sick is to confess all known sin, as James 5:15 implies. Confession of known sin is a very important part of Divine healing, and it is not to be neglected or minimized. Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (1 Cor. 11:30-31)
Here are four actions to be taken by a person who is sick. Let those who have spiritual ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the Church.